Special Report: In Kim Jong Un’s summer palace, fun meets guns


SEOUL (Reuters) – In a strand city of Wonsan, North Korean families prepare adult barbecues on a beach, go fishing, and eat stately preserve season ice cream in a summer breeze. For their personality Kim Jong Un, a review is a summer retreat, a destiny church to tourism, and a good place to exam missiles.

He is rebuilding a city of 360,000 people and wants to spin it into a billion-dollar traveller hotspot. At a same time, he has launched scarcely 40 missiles from a area, as partial of his accelerated tests of North Korea’s chief deterrent.

“It competence sound crazy to outsiders to glow missiles from a place he wants to rise economically, yet that’s how Kim Jong Un runs his country,” pronounced Lim Eul-chul, an consultant on a North Korean economy during Kyungnam University in South Korea.

This multiple of tourism and chief weapons is emblematic of Kim Jong Un’s devise for survival, contend researchers and people informed with a project.

North Korea’s growth skeleton for Wonsan have mushroomed given they were initial announced in 2014. Examined here in fact for a initial time, they run opposite 160 pages in scarcely 30 brochures assembled by a Wonsan Zone Development Corporation in Korean, Chinese, Russian and English in 2015 and 2016.

Tourism is one of a timorous operation of North Korean income sources not targeted by United Nations sanctions, and a brochures publicize to unfamiliar investors some $1.5 billion value of intensity ventures in a Wonsan Special Tourist Zone, an area covering some-more than 400 block km (150 block miles). Kim has already assembled a ski review and a new airfield there.

According to one brochure, a Zone includes approximately 140 chronological relics, 10 silt beaches, 680 traveller attractions, 4 vegetable springs, several showering resorts and healthy lakes and “more than 3.3 million tons of silt with healing properties for neuralgia and colitis.”

The projects that Kim is mouth-watering investors to assistance build embody a $7.3 million dialect store, a $197 million city core development, and a $123 million golf march (including a $62.5 million price to franchise a land).

Earlier this year Kim sent 16 of his officials to Spain to get ideas for Wonsan. They visited Marina d‘Or, one of a Mediterranean country’s biggest holiday complexes, and a Terra Mitica (Mythical Land) thesis park in Benidorm. Terra Mitica caters to fans “of impassioned sensations,” according to a website.

“They saw such places with their possess eyes and filmed some of them,” pronounced a orator during a North Korean embassy in Madrid. Both parks arguable a visits; a mouthpiece for Terra Mitica pronounced a North Koreans were tender by a themes including a ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome.

No critical unfamiliar partner has pronounced they will behind Kim’s Wonsan projects. The new airport, finished in 2015, has nonetheless to open to general flights. America recently criminialized a adults from visiting North Korea. International sanctions now anathema all corner ventures with a state.

Even so, a devise is strategically critical for Kim, contend former North Korean diplomats. When he came to energy in 2011, he hereditary a multitude strictly run by a infantry yet whose people survived mostly on black marketplace dealings. On paper, North Korea is a state-run economy; yet in fact, 7 in 10 North Koreans count on private trade to live, according to Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s former emissary envoy in London, who staged a high-profile desertion with his family in 2016.

Kim is viewed by outsiders as all powerful, yet North Korea’s giveaway marketeers make him some-more exposed than he seems, Thae told Reuters. The personality is looking for a approach to strap both infantry and marketplace army to survive.

Nuclear weapons are one partial of his answer – since Kim hopes they will cost reduction to contend than North Korea’s required complicated weapons. Projects like Wonsan are a other part. He wants to cut a share of appropriation he gives to a infantry and allot some-more income to a municipal economy.

“Kim Jong Un knows that he can usually control multitude and pledge his prolonged care if his purpose and change in a economy is increased,” pronounced Thae.


North Korea wants to attract some-more than 1 million tourists each year in a nearby tenure and around 5 million to 10 million tourists “in a foreseeable future,” a Wonsan brochures say. The Wonsan Zone Development Corporation, a North Korean state physique that oversees a project, did not respond to requests for comment.

There are no present statistics on stream visitors to North Korea. China pronounced some-more than 237,000 Chinese visited in 2012 yet it stopped edition a statistics in 2013. For comparison, 8 million Chinese visited South Korea in 2016.

The Korea Maritime Institute, a think-tank in a South, estimates that tourism generates about $44 million in annual income for North Korea – about 0.8 percent of a country’s GDP. About 80 percent of all North Korea’s unfamiliar tourists are Chinese, it says. Westerners and Russians make adult a rest.

The Wonsan brochures are welcoming. “Officials and residents of this section have a good bargain of tourism and are accessible toward tourists,” one says.

The brochures also divulge some surprising sum about vacation habits in a total state.

Not distant from a due $123 million golf course, a skeleton uncover an existent compound. It is labeled in a leaflet as a summer shelter of a State Security Department or “Bowibu” – a entity that runs North Korea’s 6 jail camps and conducts national notice of typical citizens.

Just subsequent doorway to that beachfront property, a Daesong General Bureau – a physique also famous as “Office 39” that procures oppulance products for a Kim family – has a retreat.

A third devalue is indifferent for a Korean National Insurance Corporation, a state word association that a European Union says is concerned in word fraud.

All 3 entities are theme to general sanctions since of their purpose in funneling income into Kim’s chief and barb programs.

For Kim’s confidence forces, though, Wonsan is about some-more than fun in a sun.

Kim brought his tip infantry coronet to Wonsan in 2014. On a white sandy beach of his house compound, he systematic his top admirals to frame into showering costumes and, as a exam of their ability, float 10 km around a bay, state TV showed. It filmed him during a table on a sand, shadowy by a white parasol.

In Apr this year, Kim used a beach nearby Wonsan’s new airfield to unleash an artillery cavalcade described by state media as a country’s largest ever. In it, “300 large-caliber self-propelled guns” non-stop glow during a white aim embellished on a tiny island 3 km away.

The bombardment, promote on state TV, incited that island into a dry moonscape.


Wonsan binds mystic energy for a Kim dynasty: It was there that Kim Jong Un’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, who helped found North Korea during a finish of Japanese colonial order in 1945, initial landed with Soviet infantry to take over a country.

Statues of North Korea’s dual former leaders mount on a quayside, where tourists are approaching to crawl and buy cosmetic flowers to offer them. Next doorway to a Kim family palace, a Songdowon Children’s Camp has welcomed “Young Pioneers” from Soviet-backed countries for decades, according to state media.

When a immature Kim was picked as successor to Kim Jong Il in 2009, he had few achievements to his name, remarkable Kim Young-Hui, who heads a group of North Korea researchers during Korea Development Bank in Seoul. If he can rise Wonsan – a place where his grandfather helped move North Korea into existence – it will sign his picture as a master builder.

“He has clever domestic reasons to rise Wonsan,” she said. She is a local of a city and defected to South Korea in 2002.

People from Wonsan, even those who have defected, contend they have mostly happy memories of a place. Wonsan’s karaoke bars and billiard clubs have a some-more arguable supply of electricity than many of North Korea, they say. They remember immature couples drum skating in a large block nearby a Wonsan waterfront.

The city has a special place in Kim’s heart, says Michael Spavor, a Canadian consultant who common Long Island Iced Teas with Kim on house one of his private boats in 2013, after they had been jet-skiing in a bay.

“He told me about … redeveloping and improving a whole city for a people and … attracting general tourists and businessmen to a area,” pronounced Spavor, who runs a Paektu Cultural Exchange, that conducts mercantile investigate in North Korea.


Official story has not disclosed Kim’s birthplace, yet many people from Wonsan trust he was innate there, partly since he spent his early years during a palace.

An version from that time gives a season of life inside a Kim family residence. One day, a Japanese family chef, Kenji Fujimoto, recounted in his memoirs, a destiny personality done an surprising remark.

“Hey, Fujimoto!” a immature Kim pronounced to a chef. “We float horses each day, go rollerblading, play basketball, and in a summer we jet ski or play in a pool. But how do typical people live?” Fujimoto, who published a book in 2010, now runs a sushi grill in Pyongyang and could not be reached.

For years underneath Kim Jong Il, North Korea, corroborated by a Soviet Union and China, had strictly supposing all for a people.

The domestic indication afterwards was famous as “songun” – infantry first, that reason that a Korean People’s Army was a initial in line for resources and a certain provider to repair a country’s mercantile problems. The “million-man army” would barter Kalashnikovs for shovels and set to work building roads, dams and housing.

After a Soviet Union collapsed in a 1990s, a whole nation, afterwards 21 million people, suffered a fast that Kim Jong Il was eventually to call a “Arduous March.” The state was no longer means to yield food, or work. Between 200,000 and 3 million people died.

To survive, typical people were forced to demeanour over a marshaled ranks on arrangement during parades, and dispatch for bits on private markets, bribing officials to spin a blind eye to any illegality. For many people – including a infantry – it was craving or trade.

When Kim a younger came to power, he pronounced a time had come to “enable a people… to live though tightening their belts any longer.”

In 2013, he shifted a domestic rhetoric. His process line, called “byungjin” or together development, harked behind to his grandfather’s era. It also signaled a corresponding allege of North Korea’s chief halt and a clever economy.


The latest accessible total contend North Korea spends a bigger share of a GDP on a infantry than any republic in a universe – an normal of 23 percent between 2004 and 2014, according to a U.S. State Department.

The Wonsan brochures guarantee healthy profits, including inner rates of lapse of between 14 percent and 43 percent. The $7.3 million Wonsan Department Store, for example, allows for unfamiliar investors to reason a seductiveness of adult to 61.3 percent. In return, it says, investors can design to make $1.3 million net annual profit.

The brochures offer favoured conditions for unfamiliar investors, observant their rights are stable by a state and they can subtract supports abroad though any limitations. Land is accessible to them to lease, not to own, for 50 years, yet investors can trade a leases.

Some of a projects are reduction generous. One offers a event to income in on a recognition of North Korean drink with an initial $2.4 million investment in a new Wonsan Brewery. The offer says unfamiliar investors will be theme to a 15 percent transaction tax, a city government tax, an automobile tax, and other deductions. Then there is income taxation during 14 percent. These deductions will scarcely separate a projected annual profit, to $154,711.

For domestic investors North Korea strictly has no tax, yet experts contend a state raises supports by collecting about 70 percent of a increase of state enterprises.

A few of a proposals widen a suspicion of tourism. They embody an Offshore Farm to furnish seafoods “of good mercantile value on an industrial basis, so as to prove a final of tourists and trade a products to a unfamiliar market,” a lighting factory, a seat factory, and a renovated Wonsan Fishing Tackle factory. Its outlay will embody 10,000 low sea floats, 750 tonnes of ropes and 2,500 “lifesaving jackets for swimming.”

Since a skeleton were drawn up, a United Nations has tightened sanctions on North Korea to embody a anathema on seafood exports and curbs on corner ventures.

According to a leaflet from 2015, unfamiliar financier seductiveness in a Wonsan devise was “growing day by day.”

But a Westerner who attended an investment discussion in Wonsan in 2015 pronounced North Korean officials showed small bargain of investors’ needs. About 200 people, Chinese and Westerners, listened about investment prospects in a section and were taken on a debate of a area.

“I suspicion we competence be a declare to some tangible pragmatism,” pronounced Simon Cockerell of Beijing-based Koryo Tours. “But they simply went on about how extraordinary a opportunities were and couldn’t acknowledge any weaknesses or that there competence be any issues during all with a area or any of their plans.”

Han Jin-myung, a North Korean diplomat who was stationed in Vietnam until 2015 before defecting to South Korea, pronounced he had been tasked with compelling a Wonsan intrigue abroad and had small success: “We only finished adult offered North Korean spices and medicines instead.”

Reporting by Ju-min Park and James Pearson in Seoul; Additional stating by Seung-Woo Yeom in Seoul and Sonya Dowsett in Madrid; Edited by Sara Ledwith


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